UN Syrian Refugees Programme

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 20th January 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper The Minister for Immigration 3:33 pm, 20th January 2014

More than half the Syrian population of 9.3 million is in need of humanitarian assistance, and 2.3 million people have been displaced from Syria to neighbouring countries. This is a crisis of international proportions and needs a commensurate response from the international community. The Government are proud to be playing their part in that response, and share the view of the UN Secretary-General that the priorities must be to

“assist the Syrian parties in ending the violence and achieving a comprehensive agreement for a political settlement”,

and ending the suffering of the Syrian people. No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead, but we are determined to strive for a peaceful settlement through the Geneva II process, which starts later this week and is working towards the establishment of a transitional governing body for Syria.

The Government continue to believe that the best way to address the suffering of the Syrian people should be to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people, in partnership with neighbouring countries and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Before last week, the Government had provided £500 million for the Syrian relief effort, of which more than £480 million had been allocated to partners in Syria and the region. That has helped more than 1 million people. Almost 320,000 people are being provided with food assistance each month in Syria and neighbouring countries, and more than 244,000 people in Syria have been offered medical help. The Government continually press for better access and protection for humanitarian convoys inside Syria so that aid can get to the millions in need inside the country. That represents the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.

We are leading the way in helping the Syrians suffering from the humanitarian crisis as the second largest donor, behind the US, helping refugees, and through consideration of Syrian asylum claims under our normal rules. In the year to last September, we had already recognised more than 1,100 Syrian nationals as refugees.

We are very aware that some, including the UNHCR, would like to see a more proactive programme of resettlement of refugees who are currently hosted by countries neighbouring Syria. We have considered those options very carefully and respect the views of those countries who favour a resettlement programme, but we think that our priority should continue to be to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people in the region, in partnership with neighbouring countries, the UNHCR and other UN and non-governmental partners. Most of those who are displaced want to return home as soon as it is safe to do so, and protection in the region affords them that hope.

Beyond immediate humanitarian assistance, our priority must be to help neighbouring countries to provide sustainable protection in the region. That should be our focus, rather than resettlement or providing humanitarian admission to Syrians—initiatives that can provide only very limited relief and have only a token impact on the huge numbers of refugees.

The UK can be proud of its contribution but there is still more to do. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development pledged a further £100 million in aid at the pledging conference in Kuwait, taking our contribution to £600 million.

I recognise that this is a highly emotive issue and one that continues to require real action through high levels of international co-operation, both in the region and more widely. The UK has a proud tradition of providing protection to those in need, and this Government are committed to continuing to playing our full part in the international response to the humanitarian crisis Syria. Our response to date is one of which we can be proud.